Tuck Shop
Jackie Mercandetti

The historic Coronado District's restaurant row, stretching along Seventh Street between McDowell and Thomas, is full of great restaurants, but to get to one of our favorite spots in the area, you'll have to take a small detour. Nestled in the residential heart of the neighborhood, Tuck Shop does have an unlikely location (before its opening, some locals pitched a fit, and the city had to limit its business hours to dinner). Still, it's worth seeking out for its cozy mid-century atmosphere and its Southern-influenced comfort food.

Fried chicken, red beans and rice with sausage and Creole shrimp, and juicy skirt steak with mashed Yukon potatoes are just a few highlights. Tuck Shop also has a reasonably priced wine list and excellent cocktails. As you can probably tell, Tuck Shop is quite a find.

Joe's Real BBQ
Courtesy of Joe's Real BBQ

To walk into Joe's Real BBQ, right in the middle of downtown Gilbert, you'd think you'd stepped right back in time to the 1940s. The building itself, all gorgeous red brick, was constructed in 1929 as a Safeway Pay'n'Takit (ah, they just don't make 'em like they used to), while the restored John Deere tractor in the middle of the dining room is an authentic '40s relic. And just like an old-fashioned cafeteria, you grab a tray and get in line to order up plates of slow-cooked meats smoked over pecan wood — beef brisket, luscious pulled pork, and pork ribs so tender you'll gnaw them down to the bones. Homemade root beer and retro sodas in glass bottles only add to the vintage vibe. Amazingly, Joe's Real BBQ has been in business since only the late '90s, but it's still a total blast from the past.

Atlas Bistro
Jackie Mercandetti Photo

If you like creative, contemporary American cuisine in a relaxed, unpretentious atmosphere, you gotta get yourself to Atlas, stat. It's a wine lover's dream come true, a cozy nook that's actually connected to AZ Wine Co. That's right, you have to walk past aisles of wine to get there. Of course, you can feel free to bring your best bottles from home, too — some of the restaurant's most loyal customers do just that. And because chef Josh Riesner changes up the menu so frequently, there's even more reason for repeat visits.

Kurobuta pork belly with polenta and caramelized apple and onion compote? Pheasant breast roulade with rye gnocchi, bacon cabbage, and pheasant gravy? You never quite know what you're gonna get here, except that it all tastes incredible with wine.

Mastro's Ocean Club
Courtesy of Mastro's Ocean Club

From sushi to ceviche, we'll devour most any seafood dish that lands in front of us. And it doesn't always have to be exotic. There's a certain old-school charm to a traditional seafood restaurant like Mastro's Ocean Club, where fish is simply prepared — perhaps pan-fried, perhaps mesquite-grilled — to emphasize its freshness. Give it just a squeeze of lemon juice, and we're good. Between Ocean Club's regular menu and the daily specials, there are easily 20 different kinds of seafood to choose from, including succulent sautéed sea scallops and moist red snapper. And be sure to check out the iced seafood tower, heaped with crab claws, oysters, caviar, or whatever else floats your boat. It all may sound totally decadent, but Ocean Club's ritzy atmosphere, live music, happening lounge scene, and well-crafted martinis will put you in the mood to go overboard. Ahoy!

Durant's

A whole lot of upscale, contemporary steakhouses have opened up in town over the past couple of years — especially from celebrity chefs looking to make an imprint on the Valley's dining scene — and we're not entirely sure that the trend has subsided. People love their meat, and they're always looking for new ways to enjoy it. But even though we're happy to get our steak fix at the newest trendy steakhouses, we're still loyal to Durant's after all these years. There are good reasons this place is such a time-honored Valley destination, after all. With flocked red wallpaper and those big, dark booths, the atmosphere is pure Rat Pack glam, perfect for knocking back a martini or two, chowing down on a classic Caesar salad done right, and reveling in the glory of red meat. Whether it's a perfectly medium-rare New York strip, a thick rib eye, or a Porterhouse that weighs in at a whopping 48 ounces, it always satisfied our most primal, carnivorous urges. For us, that's something that'll never go out of style.

J&G Steakhouse
Courtesy of J&G Steakhouse

Honestly, we figured we'd get tired of the upscale steakhouse trend, but then J&G Steakhouse came along and completely seduced us with outrageously good prime steaks and a sexy, inviting atmosphere. No wonder Jean-Georges Vongerichten, the celebrity chef behind the J&G concept, helms a lineup of Michelin-starred eateries around the world. When The Phoenician resort teamed up with Vongerichten to replace the aging Mary Elaine's with this new spot, they transformed the dining room into a sleek, sophisticated space that shows off a truly incredible view of the Valley through a wall of windows. It's just the right setting to dig into spectacular steaks, like perfectly cooked prime rib, or a remarkably juicy New York strip with a six-peppercorn crust. When we need to satisfy our lust for red meat, J&G sweeps us away every time.

Best Contemporary American Cuisine

NOCA

Noca
Evie Carpenter

Some restaurants take years to refine their food and service, but NOCA came sprinting out of the gates and hasn't looked back. In February, it was named one of the best new restaurants in the country by the James Beard Foundation. Now barely over a year old, it's still got strong buzz, thanks to the efforts of restaurateur Eliot Wexler and executive chef Chris Curtiss. While Wexler dotes on first-timers and regular customers alike, Curtiss dreams up dishes with the freshest ingredients he can get his hands on, whether it's seafood from the same purveyor that the French Laundry uses, or organic produce straight from local farms. The menu changes frequently, but it always balances classic (duck confit, handmade pasta) and cutting-edge (sea urchin panna cotta). It's a melting pot of influences, to be sure, but upscale takes on American favorites like the pastrami sandwich (here, made with wagyu) keep NOCA firmly planted on U.S. soil. Once you dine here, don't be surprised if you pledge allegiance.

La Piazza Al Forno

When we imagine the ideal neighborhood Italian joint, we picture a casual, convivial spot on a charming street, a place where locals gobble up great pizza, knock back a few glasses of wine over steaming bowls of pasta, and are generally treated like family by doting owners. And guess what? It's not just a figment of our imagination. We just described La Piazza al Forno, a gem of a place planted right in the midst of quaint downtown Glendale. Thanks to an open kitchen, customers can chat with owner Justin Piazza while he hand-tosses pizzas and works the roaring pecan- and oak-fired brick oven, which exudes such a heavenly aroma that you can smell it from outside. We're keen on the garlic-heavy La Piazza Blanco pie, but balsamic-kissed Mediterranean ravioli and velvety chicken pesto lasagna are equally enticing. And be sure to save room for the excellent New York cheesecake, further proof that La Piazza al Forno is a dream come true.

Marcellino Ristorante
Molly Smith

You've heard of a "feel-good" movie? Marcellino is a feel-good restaurant — dining here never fails to put a big grin on our face. The atmosphere is cozily elegant, a real jaw-dropper if you're here for the first time (alas, it's in a strip mall, so you really can't tell how cool this place is from the outside). Gracious staffers follow the lead of chef Marcellino Verzino and his wife Sima, who make customers feel like VIPs in an exclusive supper club where the wine keeps flowing and delicious smells waft from the kitchen. And the food? So, so delicious, from perfect carpaccio to luscious veal scaloppine, blanketed in Gorgonzola sauce. Handmade pastas are a big deal at Marcellino, with several on the regular menu and a few more offered as nightly specials, like porcini linguine with shiitake mushrooms and truffle oil. Deciding what to order might be torture, but don't worry — this is the kind of place where there are no wrong choices.

Greekfest Restaurant
Diana Martinez

In the middle of this parched desert metropolis, Greekfest is as refreshing as a balmy Mediterranean breeze gently wafting through a seaside taverna. With its pristine white walls and wood-beamed ceilings that remind us of the rustic charm of the Old Country, this friendly Greek eatery is where we go when we want to unwind with family and friends over a lavish, leisurely meal. While the gyro and other fast foods seem to be typical of many Greek restaurants in the Valley, Greekfest sticks to time-honored traditional dishes made with care, from dolmathes, neatly wrapped in grape leaves, to luscious moussaka. If you're hungry for lamb, this is the place to be — the menu includes marinated lamb souvlaki, roast rack of lamb, braised lamb in tomato sauce, and pastistio layered with ground lamb. And don't miss the wine list, with dozens of Greek imports. It all amounts to a heck of a fun eating and drinking excursion at Greekfest — with an emphasis on the "fest."

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